Jones loses by 7 votes

Challenger Russell unseats councilman for Oakland Mills

`Hard-fought election'

Columbia Council elections topple three incumbents

April 18, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

A third Columbia Council incumbent has been defeated in his re-election bid, losing by seven votes to a challenger who had called the city's governing body "asleep at the wheel."

Oakland Mills representative Earl Jones captured 290 votes to challenger Barbara Russell's 297 votes, the elections committee said yesterday.

The outcome of Saturday's race -- which attracted unusually high interest -- had been unclear because of uncertainty over the validity of mail-in ballots outstanding. Any such ballots will not be counted.

"It was a hard-fought election, it was a close election, but it was an election and I'm delighted to have won," said Russell, a longtime County Council aide.

Jones, who does not plan to contest the results, is the third of three Columbia Council incumbents running in contested races to lose their re-election bids.

Representatives Tom Forno of Harper's Choice and Jean Friedberg of Hickory Ridge lost overwhelmingly in races that seemed, in part, a referendum on the leadership of Columbia Association President Deborah O. McCarty. Forno and Friedberg were staunch allies of the president, who critics say has not been a good leader or a public presence in Columbia. The race in Oakland Mills, however, was not about whether McCarty should stay or go. Jones and Russell had called for her to step down.

Rather, the tally might have indicated dissatisfaction with the entire council, whose 10 members have been locked in a divisive debate over a range of issues -- from the propriety of some of McCarty's business expenses to proposed censure motions and news media leaks -- for the past two months.

The Oakland Mills elections committee said yesterday that any mail-in ballots that had not been received by the time the polls closed at 5 p.m. Saturday will not be considered.

New members

As was the case last year, the new council will have four freshman members. In addition to Russell, they are:

Miles Coffman of Hickory Ridge, who defeated incumbent Friedberg with 86 percent of the vote.

Lanny Morrison of Harper's Choice, who unseated Forno with 74 percent of the vote.

Donna Rice of Town Center, who bested two challengers, Suzanne Waller and Dennis Lane, to win 48 percent of the vote.

The representatives-elect come with political experience in the planned community: Two of the four, Coffman and Rice, serve on their village boards, and Morrison is a former Columbia Council chairman.

They also come with a critical eye toward McCarty's leadership: Morrison and Russell have called for the president's resignation, and the others, to varying degrees, have raised questions about the job she has done.

"I'm hoping that for her sake and for the community's sake and for the Columbia Council's sake, that she will step down," said Russell, who was the first to make that plea publicly before the elections.

Six returning

Six council incumbents who were unopposed or did not face re-election will return when the new session begins May 1.

They are Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, the council vice chairwoman, of Owen Brown; Kirk Halpin of Kings Contrivance; Cecilia Januszkiewicz of Long Reach; Vince Marando of Wilde Lake; Kenneth Puckett of Dorsey's Search; and Adam Rich of River Hill.

Januszkiewicz, a McCarty supporter who recently voted to award the president a $5,000 bonus, was not on the ballot this year, but voters passed two amendments that create a means for her recall.

"I guess that people decided that they wanted to have that mechanism," said Januszkiewicz, who stressed that turnout in Long Reach, at 278 voters, was far below other villages. "It's done, and so we'll all have to live with it."

She said the high council turnover indicates the need for a change to the board's structure. She favors two-year concurrent terms for all members.

As for her outlook on the new board, she said: "I guess that I expect all of the members of the council to come to the council with an open mind and willing to hear all of the facts and listen to all sides of the story before they jump to any conclusions or decisions."

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